WASHINGTON, D.C. - United States Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader, delivered the commencement address at George Washington Law School’s graduation ceremony today. Following are his remarks:
George Washington Commencement
Sunday, May 22, 2005
I last set foot on George Washington’s campus in January of 1964. That is the time I graduated from law school. In the 40 years since, I haven’t been back to campus or returned a letter. I’ve been holding a grudge.
Law school was hard for me – I worked 6 full days a week as a policeman at the U.S. Capitol, and I was a full time law student.
At the time, my wife and I were very young and didn’t have a lot of money. We had a young daughter, and as I said, I was working full-time and going to school full-time. My wife was pregnant, and wasn’t able to work. With my job at the Capitol, we managed to get by, but just barely.
Then one fateful day my Buick Roadmaster’s transmission collapsed.
So here we were: no car…no way to get to work…too many bills…and now a car needing its own help.
Seeking assistance and counsel, I sought one of the law school deans.
After I explained my situation, he looked me in the eye and gave me this advice: “Why don’t you just quit law school.”
I don’t remember exactly what I thought he would say, but that was not it. I thought perhaps he would offer some words of encouragement, or maybe even some assistance…but I never imagined he would tell me just to quit.
Since that day, I’ve harbored ill-will towards this school. He was only one man, but his words stung and they stuck with me for years.
In retrospect, I should have gotten over it sooner. I’m sorry I didn’t. So I apologize to the entire faculty, Administration and all of the law students for my pettiness. It’s not how I’ve tried to live my life.
My thoughts these past weeks have caused me to be conscious of advice and forgiveness, as I have listened to and participated in the United States Senate debate on the so-called nuclear option.
Chairman Arlen Specter explained on the Senate floor this week how we arrived at the cliff’s edge – the nuclear option. He spoke of the more than 60 judicial nominations of President Clinton that were never given hearings and therefore died in the Republican Judiciary Committee. He also described what he deemed was payback time when Senate Democrats filibustered 10 of the nominations of President Bush.
The ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Pat Leahy answered by reminding Senators that the 10 filibustered nominees were not mainstream – they were too controversial. Leahy insisted that it wasn’t much of a payback, since we also confirmed 208 of President Bush’s nominees. 208 to 10.
Centrists and traditionalists like Senator Byrd, who has served in Congress 53 years, and Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, have joined forces with new Senators like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in an attempt to bridge the differences. I wish them well.
The Judiciary and the Legislature – two of the separate but equal branches of government – are what these Senators and others say they are trying to preserve. They specifically want to maintain the advice and consent doctrine as part of the checks and balances of our Constitution.
If these Senators are unable to forge a compromise, Senator Frist, with the assistance of Vice President Cheney, will seek to change 214 years of American law and tradition. To do this, Frist and Cheney will ignore the advice of the Senate’s non-partisan parliamentarian and violate the Rules of the Senate – which require 67 votes, not a mere majority as the Vice President will state, to amend the Rules.
That contempt for the rule of law and the law of rules will set a new precedent – an illegal precedent – that will always remain on the pages of Senate history – a precedent that will thrust us toward totally eliminating the filibuster in all Senate proceedings, a precedent that will eliminate the essential deliberative nature of the Senate – which was designed by the Founding Fathers to make it a counterbalance for the passions embodied in the House of Representatives.
We have focused on this issue for weeks and weeks with no debate on rising gas prices and failing pensions and failing schools and a failing economy.
Again, Senators Byrd and Warner, two traditionalists, are seeking to build upon the advice clause of Article II of our Constitution by reinstituting cooperation between the President and the Senate.
We need to withdraw from the precipice and forge a bipartisan compromise to resolve this matter. As an attorney, one of the lessons you will learn in arriving at a fair compromise or settlement is that a fair settlement must cause pain to each participant.
But if a compromise cannot be reached, Democrats and responsible Republicans will cast a historic vote for the Constitution and against the nuclear option.
You, the graduates we honor today, have been students of the law. You are fortunate to have a blessing of a superior education from one of the world’s finest law schools.
Everyone who is here today shares, as lawyers, as academics, as American citizens, a continued interest in the rule of law, and the vision of a fair and independent judiciary.
So now, it is my turn to give advice here at George Washington law school. My advice to you graduates is that each use your education to stand for the rule of law, not of man. My advice is that you play the game hard, but play by the rules. And if the game goes against you, work harder, train harder, and play again. My further advice is that you always strive to win but only to win fair and square.
Because otherwise, the game isn’t worth the prize.
And whatever you do don’t quit.
I hope this is better than the advice given to me here – - 40 years ago.